NFU Opposes Biotech Insurance Break (6/3/2008)

1.NFU Opposes Biotech Insurance Break

2.Seed controversy sprouts

3.Farmers assail DA subsidy to BT corn

NOTE: We often hear industry hype about how farmers are choosing to grow more and more acres of GM crops because of their benefits, but here's yet another example of external pressures to grow GMOs - in this case, a rate reduction on crop insurance from the US Dept of Agriculture for farmers who plant at least 75 percent of their corn crop with Monsanto's GM seed (items 1 and 2).

In the Philippines, the pro-GM Government actually provides special subsidies to farmers planting GMOs (item 3). And there are reports from a number of GM growing countries of non-GM seed being made less available to farmers, or even unavailable, because the returns on the more expensive GM seed are so much higher for the seed industry.

EXTRACTS: 'Apparently, the agriculture department is again serving as sales agent of the companies producing BT corn varieties like Monsanto and Syngenta.' (item 3)

'We definitely have a problem with all the benefits that [Monsanto] gets. If you really look at our crop subsidy program and what's given to farmers, you really see a lot of those subsidies going to purchase genetically engineered crops.' (item 2)


1.NFU Opposes Biotech Insurance Break
Chris Clayton DTN Staff Reporter
DTN, March 4 2008

LAS VEGAS (DTN) -- Congress should hold oversight hearings into the federal government's crop-insurance yield endorsement of certain biotech corn seeds, delegates for the National Farmers Union voted Tuesday.

USDA's Risk Management Agency this year agreed to a rate reduction on crop insurance for farmers who plant at least 75 percent of their corn crop with a hybrid seed containing a combination of three proprietary biotech traits developed and licensed by Monsanto Co. The pilot project is offering the discount only to producers in Indiana, Illinois, Iowa and Minnesota.

National Farmers Union delegates at the group's annual convention in Las Vegas questioned why USDA would endorse farm practices used by some producers, but not all. Crop insurance should be provided affordably to all producers regardless of size, equipment or technology used on a farm and should not cause producers to alter decisions in managing their operations, NFU delegates said.

'Ultimately, this is going to give an unfair advantage to large producers who can afford the technology, said Bryan Sharp, of Taylorville, Ill., president of the Illinois Farmers Union.

Sharp's state delegates brought forward the special order to NFU making it a priority for the group to take to lawmakers this year. Sharp said the federal government shouldn't be endorsing the practices or products a farmer chooses in a government-subsidized program.

'They are endorsing a product that is not even globally endorsed,' Sharp said.

If USDA continues, the department 'opens up a Pandora's box' of promoting more technologies or private business products at the expense of others, Sharp said.

Other farmers also raised the point that RMA's decision appeared only to profit Monsanto. Another NFU member countered, saying the endorsement was meant to lower the overall costs of crop insurance for everyone. The seeds in question also are sold by more than 200 companies nationally.

Delegates eventually voted to ask Congress to hold oversight hearings into RMA's decision and the need for such a government endorsement.

The three traits endorsed by RMA include Monsanto's YieldGard Corn Borer, YieldGard Rootworm and Roundup Ready Corn 2, according to USDA.


2.Seed controversy sprouts
Some say USDA's insurance break for Monsanto customers unfair
By Stephen J. Hedges, Washington Bureau Chicago Tribune, December 26 2007

WASHINGTON - While the federal government doesn't usually endorse products, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has struck an unusual arrangement with agribusiness giant Monsanto Co. that gives farmers in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa and Minnesota a break on federal crop insurance premiums if they plant Monsanto-brand seed corn this spring.

The arrangement has raised some eyebrows, particularly among organic farm groups that argue the government agency should not be promoting corn that contains an herbicide; the Monsanto brands contain chemicals that kill weeds and insects.

Monsanto's deal is legal, note USDA officials who point out that such arrangements were encouraged in a 2000 crop insurance law that Congress enthusiastically passed. The idea is to give farmers a break on their insurance premiums if they use corn seeds that are higher yield and shown to resist insects and other threats.

USDA officials said they are aware of the appearance of favoritism toward one of the nation's largest ag companies.

'We knew it would look that way,' said Shirley Pugh, a spokeswoman for USDA's Risk Management Agency, which administers federal crop insurance. 'But other companies can come and do the same thing. We are making the discount available because the corn has shown the traits necessary to reduce the risk.'

Pugh said the arrangement benefits not just farmers, but also taxpayers, since USDA pays a portion of each farmer's insurance premium.

Farm groups said the timing of the USDA-Monsanto agreement will help farmers who face higher crop insurance premiums because of elevated corn prices.

'We're very supportive of the concept,' said Ron Litterer, president of the National Corn Growers Association, and a farmer in Greene, Iowa. 'Not only for Monsanto but for any biotechnology company that can make the case that by using those products, it lowers the risk of providing a corn crop.'

The deal with St. Louis-based Monsanto occurred under a provision called the Biotech Yield Endorsement program, which is part of the Agricultural Risk Protection Act of 2000.

No other companies have taken advantage of the program, Pugh said. The insurance premium benefit to farmers, according to USDA, will be about $2 per acre, or $2,000 for a typical 1,000-acre farm.

Crop insurance prices have skyrocketed for farmers as corn prices have reached near-record highs in recent months. Today, corn trades at about $4 a bushel, double the price of about two years ago.

Those prices have continued to stay high because of increased demand from the ethanol industry, which uses the grain to make fuel, as well as increased corn exports and demands from cattle-feeding businesses.

Crop insurance rates can be as high as $50 an acre, according to Kurt Koester, a vice president and co-owner at AgriSource Inc., a crop insurance agency in West Des Moines, Iowa, involved in the pilot program. Several years ago, Koester said premiums were about $15 to $20 an acre.

'Farmers are going to face some really tough decisions here,' Koester said. 'They've got this high-value corn sitting out in their fields. When you take the cost of this crop insurance, even with government subsidies, there's going to be sticker shock.'

The pilot program with Monsanto covers the country's four most productive corn states. It involves corn that contains YieldGard Plus with Roundup Ready Corn 2 or YieldGard VT Triple technology from Monsanto, the company said. The deal with the Agriculture Department was finalized this month.

The corn grown is generally used as cattle feed and as raw material for ethanol plants.

Monsanto won the BYE designation by providing three years' worth of research that convinced the USDA's Federal Crop Insurance Corporation board that its triple-stack corn variety produces higher yields under difficult conditions, such as weeds and corn borer.

'It really bore out what we've heard from our farmers, saying over and over again that these triple-stack technologies in the corn plant help protect against weeds and root worms,' said Darren Wallis, a Monsanto spokesman. 'What this does is reduce the risk for the farmers.'

Monsanto, however, has earned the wrath of organic agriculture and environmental groups, mostly for promoting the growth of genetically altered crops. The presence of Roundup in its corn seed has also drawn criticism.

Ronnie Cummins, national director of the Organic Consumers Association, characterized the USDA-Monsanto BYE arrangement as one of many examples in which the department has sided with big agribusinesses instead of smaller farmers and farm groups. He said the BYE program will leave farmers with little choice but to buy Monsanto seed.

'We definitely have a problem with all the benefits that [Monsanto] gets,' Cummins said. 'If you really look at our crop subsidy program and what's given to farmers, you really see a lot of those subsidies going to purchase genetically engineered crops.'

Cummins also said that the USDA-Monsanto arrangement excludes organic farmers.

Most of the corn acreage in the four states involved is insured, according to USDA figures. Of the 11 million acres planted in corn in 2006 in Illinois, about 9 million acres, or 79 percent, had federal crop insurance, according to USDA. In Indiana, 68 percent of corn acres were insured, in Iowa, 87 percent and in Minnesota, 89 percent.


3.Farmers assail DA subsidy to BT corn
By Jeffrey M. Tupas
Philippines Inquirer, 22 November 2007

DAVAO CITY-Organic farmers in Mindanao have protested the Department of Agriculture's policy of providing financial support to those who will plant varieties of genetically-engineered corn or Bacillus thuringiensis (BT) corn.

Francis Morales, of the Upliftment of the Moral, Economic, Technological, Socio-spiritual Aspirations of Persons or Metsa Foundation, said the government subsidy to BT corn farmers benefits agricultural companies, which have high stakes in the BT corn business.

'Apparently, the agriculture department is again serving as sales agent of the companies producing BT corn varieties like Monsanto and Syngenta,' he said.

Morales said by pledging to extend financial help to BT corn farmers, the DA is helping agricultural companies solve their marketing problem.

'Now we see this agency actually linking the BT corn producers and their target market. To whose convenience? Of course to the convenience and benefit of the companies,' Morales said.

The DA in Central Mindanao recently announced that the subsidy would be P1,200 per hectare.

It said the government was hoping that 5,000 to 10,000 hectares of land would be planted to BT corn in the region alone.

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